Today, you hear tons of talk and advice about work-life balance. But -- let's face it -- they aren't two mutually exclusive parts of your daily life. Your work has an impact outside of the office, just as your personal life can often affect the way you approach your career.
So, what if you stopped being so concerned with perfectly balancing these parts of your life, and instead channeled your energy into better integrating them?
That's exactly the approach that Maria Sirois, PsyD. and licensed Clinical Psychologist at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, suggests in order to feel less stressed and more fulfilled both in the office and out.
Why should you focus on integrating -- rather than balancing?
Anyone who has ever tried to perfectly balance work and life knows that the concept itself doesn't quite mirror reality. Boundaries between these two areas have become increasingly fluid and complex, making an integrated approach not only more appealing, but also more realistic.
"Balance implies an even distribution," explains Dr. Sirois. "Yet, we all know that the distribution of effort, time, and mental energy for work or home is always uneven and never quite as predictable as we'd like to think."
Sirois notes that an integrated approach signifies that we see our days as whole and ourselves as a whole person -- not one person at the office, and another around the dinner table. "With this perspective, we can be much more wise about how we show up in our days," she adds.
So, how do you go about better integrating your work life and personal life? Dr. Sirois suggests four key tips.
1. Focus on Efficiency
While there's no magic trick to give yourself a few extra hours each day, getting important work done at the times when you're most efficient, focused, and productive can definitely be a help.
Whether you're an early bird or a night owl, paying attention to your natural rhythms will help you make the most of the time you have available.
"An integrated view behooves us to consider when to dive deeply into work and also when we are better off taking a break," adds Dr. Sirois. This less rigid approach to your schedule will give you the freedom to approach both your work and your life in a manner that suits you best.
2. Lead From Your Strengths
Integration is not just about how we show up, but also who shows up. "Research in the field of positive psychology informs us that the most engaged and energized employees lead from their signature strengths," Dr. Sirois shares, "Those qualities that are naturally good, strong, and authentic within them."
Identify those strong traits that can apply to both your personal and professional life, and then use them to navigate your work, as well as any problems or stressful situations.
"We build inner capacity, an attitude of resilience, and an increased sense of purpose when we lead from those qualities that are best in us," she adds.
3. Seek the Sweet Spot
Tal Ben-Shahar, a world leader in the field of positive psychology, explains the "sweet spot" as that place where our strengths, our passions, and our sense of meaning intersect. And, finding that intersection between our competencies and interests allows us to be that much more deeply engaged and successful.
"This is an integrated approach to living our lives, whether at the company desk or at the kitchen counter," says Dr. Sirois. She suggests viewing these intersecting areas as a three-circle Venn diagram in order to bring a sense of completion and wholeness to yourself and your life.
In doing so, Dr. Sirois says, "We learn what to say 'no' to and what to say 'yes' to, reducing ineffective choices and increasing our time and energy commitments to those choices that are truly a sweeter spot."
4. Accept Paradox
Seeking the sweet spot is important. But, that doesn't mean you should obsess over perfection. There will always be times when you feel more competent in one area than the other.
You will achieve a greater sense of integration if you strive for excellence in everything you do, while also accepting the fact that imperfection is a part of being human.
"Letting go of the burden of perfectionism while striving for the best each day enables us to forgive ourselves for not getting it all done perfectly in every moment," Dr. Sirois elaborates, "While keeping our vision on the best of ourselves."
We want it all -- plenty of quality time with our loved ones while also performing well at work. However, balancing these two halves of the equation can often feel impossible and even counterproductive.
This is why working toward integrating -- rather than balancing -- work and life can be so helpful. Dr. Sirois concludes, "Moving toward an integrated approach helps us shift our perspective toward something that is actually based in reality and is constructive and healthy."